Even though a weekend at the monastery means spending time alone — sitting cross-legged on the stone floor in the crypt near hundreds of lit candles, going for walks through the woods and sheep pasture, writing in my journal and reading books from my spiritual library, or even just sitting in a comfy chair to stare out the window — mealtimes at the Women's Guesthouse are also part of my monastery experience. Mostly, the guests are pairs or small groups of women who come on retreat with their friends, and gathering around the lunch or dinner table plunges us almost immediately into intimate conversations.
This weekend, we had a fairly big crowd, a dozen of us altogether. We filled both tables in the enclosed porch where we eat. One woman recognized me and Monking Friend immediately. We've met before. She had come with her sister-in-law and two close friends. Friendly Woman was introduced to the monastery when she was in college, more than 20 years ago, and she's returned every year since. "I can't imagine anyone coming here and NOT returning," said her friend, Fashion Glasses.
Since I've only been coming to the monastery for 11 years, I asked Friendly Woman if she had seen many changes. She laughed. "No! That's what I love about this place. It never changes."
Because the weather was rainy and overcast, no one was in a hurry to head back outside even after we were done eating. The elderly woman next to me began a discussion about women's ordination, something she supports strongly. We talked about movies we'd seen and books we'd read. We talked about the difficulties of relationships and the challenges of raising children. We lingered over cups of coffee and tea, eating homemade pie and talking some more, comparing our lives, our thoughts, our dreams.